On this day in 1910, Italy played France in its first ever international friendly match. The match took place at the Arena Civica in Milan and ended in an emphatic 6-2 win for the home side.
More important than the result, the fixture often dubbed as the ‘Derby ‘d’Europa’, would initiate a fierce footballing rivalry which would continue for decades to come.
Italy and France have an almost love-hate relationship which stretches way past the realms of sport. Since the days of Napoleon Bonaparte, these two countries have often been at odds with each other though reluctantly sharing a mutual admiration for food, wine, art and more recently, football.
A perhaps jealous admiration of one another, binding the two nations no matter how much they try to deny it.
That particular historic match back in 1910 had a touch of the bizarre, as the peninsula was still behind the times in terms of football when compared to many northern European nations.
The Italians were hampered in terms of squad selection as the finest club team in the land, Pro Vercelli, did not allow players to participate in the match due to a ban imposed by the Italian football federation.
They sported an almost all-white kit, though some players, for reasons unknown, were allowed to wear black shorts. Eventually deciding on blue as their home colours, the white strip remains to this day as the Italy away shirt.
The entertaining game was watched by around 4,000 spectators, who at the end of the tie began to throw packets of cigarettes onto the field as a reward for the players who had performed so admirably.
Obviously, Italian football has come a long way since that 6-2 result with cigarettes no longer an incentive for playing well, but the continuing sporting conflict continued as the two sides managed to meet each other over the years in some enthralling and tournament-deciding encounters.
In 1938, the Azzurri won their second World Cup, ironically held in France, beating Les Bleus 3-1 in Paris en route to the final.
But more recently, things have really started to heat up between the two teams who just can’t keep away from each other.
In 1978, the two met in Argentina during the World Cup, with the Azzurri triumphing 2-1 in a group stage match. They faced each other once more in Mexico 1986, with Michel Platini inspiring a 2-0 victory, sending the Italians home early from the tournament.
During the 1998 World Cup on home soil, the French avenged their comrades from 50 years previous, knocking Italy out via a penalty shootout at the quarter final stage, as this time they went on to lift the trophy for the first time ever at the expense of Brazil in the final.
The European Championships in 2000 would bring further Italian heartbreak as both countries met again, this time in the final of Rotterdam. Sylvain Wiltord’s injury time equaliser and David Trezeguet’s golden goal in extra-time destroyed Italian football in one fell swoop, as France won 2-1 after Italy had led the match for around 92 minutes and 59 seconds of regulation time.
Six years after the Dutch nightmare, this somewhat sick love affair was again re-ignited in Germany, as coach Marcello Lippi guided his Azzurri squad to the final of the 2006 World Cup to face their Gallic counterparts.
This time however, the celebratory eclairs were replaced by a big dollop of Tiramisu.
La Nazionale emerged triumphant in a match that had just about everything one could ask for in a game of such magnitude.
An early penalty for France and a headed equaliser by the much-maligned and criminally underrated Marco Materazzi preceded the now-infamous Zinedine Zidane headbutt assault on the aforementioned Materazzi, ending the mercurial French maestro’s football career on an incredulous low as he was sent off the field of play in disgrace.
And then the ensuing spot kick shootout which was decided, and you really couldn’t make this up, by a miss from the Euro 2000 final hero, Trezeguet.
The stuff of soap operas!
It didn’t end there as the two were dramatically paired straight after that World Cup in the qualifiers for the 2008 European Championships where thankfully both sides progressed, though the French held the upper-hand by beating Italy at home and drawing 0-0 in the reverse fixture.
Incredibly they were to meet during the group stages of the very same tournament, this time Italy turning the tables by defeating their rivals 2-0 and sending France home early as they finished bottom of the group.
And that certainly won’t be the last we hear of these two footballing sparring partners.
As long as there is a croissant alongside a cappuccino or bresaola between a baguette, these two heavyweights of the game will undoubtedly continue this eternal struggle for footballing supremacy well into this and the next century.